Academic journal article International Journal of English Linguistics

A Pragmatic Study of Gossip in Richard Brinsely Sheridan's the School for Scandal

Academic journal article International Journal of English Linguistics

A Pragmatic Study of Gossip in Richard Brinsely Sheridan's the School for Scandal

Article excerpt


This paper is mainly concerned with investigating the pragmatic perspective of gossip, away from sociological, psychological or any other non-linguistic tackling. Hence, its major appeal is to find out the different pragmatic stages through which gossip passes. This is done by analyzing various situations taken from Sheridan's comedy, on the basis of a model of analysis developed by the study itself to serve this very purpose. The analysis of the data has yielded that the existential presupposition represented by the proper noun is the only kind employed to engender gossip. Moreover, it has been found out that knowledge, which is to be pejoratively evaluated, is the most common function of gossip.

Keywords: pragmatics, gossip, knowledge, entertainment, offence

1. Introduction

Gossip is a topic that is very easy to interact with when heard of for the first time. It is very common to the extent that it is sometimes thought to be a manifestation of any of 'ordinary' everyday life - a very important part of our communicative and "social behaviour that nearly everyone experiences, contributes to, and presumably intuitively understands" (Foster, 2004, p. 78).

Nevertheless, in the twentieth-century gossip has attracted the attention of only anthropologists, psychologists, sociologists, evolutionary biologists, philosophers and literary critics (Prodan, 1998).

Nowadays, an emphasis has been shifted to approach gossip differently at various levels. For example, there have been studies (such as Prodan's, 1998) that have tackled gossip in a hybrid method (that is, sociological and linguistic (at both the pragmatic and the sociolinguistic levels)). Other studies, such as Eggins and Slade's (1997), have dealt with gossip linguistically but in a superficial way. That is, they have quickly referred to the politeness principle and the search for agreement in their approach of gossip without giving a full account of the employment of this principle in gossip. Besides they have only limited their study to the negative side of gossip, whereas almost all the scholars, who deal with the topic, agree that gossip does have a positive facet.

Accordingly, the present paper attempts to establish a pure pragmatic perspective of gossip through investigating its generic pragmatic structure (that is to say, the different stages of gossip). Besides, it aims to develop a model to pragmatically analyze gossip which, at the same time, can be utilized to help trace the pragmatic achievement of the different functions of gossip. To achieve these, twenty situations taken from Sheridan's comedy as a whole will be analyzed on the basis of the model developed.

2. Definition

It is very common that when anybody embarks on explaining something, s/he begins by giving a definition in order to draw a clear picture of that very thing. But, paradoxically, there might be cases, of which gossip is one, where it is very difficult to put forward a clear-cut definition that fits all cases. That is, gossip is one of the terms that are defined differently on the basis of how one tries to approach or study it. For instance, if one tries to approach gossip sociologically, then gossip can be defined as "a way of talking between women in their roles as women, intimate in style, personal and domestic in topic and setting, a female cultural event which springs from and perpetuates the restrictions of the female role, but also gives the comfort of validation" (Jones, 1980, p. 243; for more definitions, see Rosnow and Fine (1976, p. 87), De Sousa (1994, p. 26), De Vos (1996, p. 20), Holland (1996, p. 198), Emler (2001, p. 318) and Iterson et al. (2002, p. 26)).

It can be said, then, that the definition of gossip is stipulative: it can be tailored according to one's aims of studying it. By so saying, an agreement with Izuogu (2009, p. 10) is reached. He states that "gossip does not lend itself to simple definitions or uniform explanations. …

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